Whether children and teens are searching Twitter or playing a video game, they face the question of whether or not they should give out personal information. Without guidance, they may not understand why they need to keep some information to themselves. Therefore, it’s important for parents to talk to their children about what they need to keep private. Below, we’ve provided information to help you set up and talk about sharing guidelines for your kids.


Information Related to Money and Security
Many parents assume their children know not to share information related to their identity, like social security numbers. Also, they may assume their children know not to give out their parents’ credit card information. However, children may not realize that it is dangerous, especially if someone they think they know asks for it. Therefore, it’s crucial to explain the possible consequences of giving out information that could lead to identity theft. This includes credit card information, passwords, exact birthdays, full names, social security numbers and addresses.

When is it okay?
It’s dangerous for children to give away this kind of information without their parents’ permission. It’s a good idea to set up ground rules for situations in which children will be tempted to give out this kind of information. For example, if children want to make online purchases, they need to tell their parents. Then, parents can enter that information themselves.


Personal Information
Though some personal information was covered in the above section, it is important to remember that other kinds of personal information are every bit as dangerous. Revealing painful moments or personal struggles can make children vulnerable. Predators and bullies look for these vulnerabilities and take advantage of them. Posting about family and friend issues, insecurities, mental illnesses or location can open children up to predators. Though children and teens often find solace when discussing these things online, parents should nonetheless make sure they understand the danger of sharing this information with strangers.

When it is okay?
While giving out deeply personal information is not a good idea, children can find communities related to interests online. Children can tell their online friends about hobbies, movies, books, music, TV shows or books they like. Just make sure they know not to give away their location. That can create a real-life danger.


Emotional Outbursts
All too often, a child will turn to the computer as a way to release emotion. Children and teens often rant online when they’re angry. However, the consequences for this can be extreme, especially if the rant targets a fellow student. In Texas, for example, David’s Law requires schools to track, punish and prevent online bullying. This law is named after David Molak, who committed suicide at 16 after being bullied online. Outbursts can damage a child’s reputation. They can also deeply hurt and endanger fellow children.

When is it okay?
Parents should remind children that there are other ways to deal with their anger. It’s also important to remind children that the internet isn’t a private place. Even if a child’s social media settings are friends-only, their friends still have the ability to screenshot posts. That means that anyone — from the entire school to their grandmother to their future boss — can possibly see a post, even if they think it’s private.


If you talk openly with your children about their online lives, you can help to keep them safe on- and off-line. Listen to their concerns. You may even want to work together as a family to form your guide to sharing information online. Printing and posting these guidelines by the computer can act as a gentle reminder when children are online. Also, parents should encourage their children to talk to them if they are unsure of whether or not they should post something on social media.

Text by L.J. Crocker


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